EDITORIAL: Process is needed to encourage debate

We say: The last thing council should want to do is limit public consultation and debate

District of Sooke council, in particular acting mayor Kerrie Reay, is feeling the rathe of some residents over a decision to limit the right to speak at council and committee of the whole meetings.

The rule limits speakers to only discuss items that are on the agenda.

The irony is that these rules were brought in as a procedural bylaw back in 2007, long before Reay was elected to council, and have been used haphazardly by different councils ever since.

Reay was so concerned about the bylaw that she requested and received a legal opinion on it. The opinion backed her view on the limits of the right to speak on any issue before council.

“It’s council’s responsibility as a whole, not just the acting mayor, to ensure we follow the procedural bylaw,” Reay told the News Mirror last week.

True.

Council allows a public comment period of two minutes per person. Only 10 minutes is allowed for all comments. Delegations are allowed five minutes.

Yet there have been many cases where public comments and delegations have gone well over their time. In December, one public speaker spoke for 17 minutes and another for 15 minutes. It resulted in some delegations waiting more than two hours to make their presentation to council.

All of this now falls back at council to come up with a plan to initiate community debate.

The simplest solution is to change the procedural bylaw and allow more speakers and more time. Other ideas could be to host town hall meetings with council, to embrace new technologies, coffee with the mayor, even a council walkabout town.

The last thing council wants to do is cut off debate and not know what is on the minds of its electorate. Such a problem could stop the town from moving forward. And nobody wants that.

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